Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 28, 2006

Ignorance, intolerance threaten civil liberties

A recent news story illustrates the dangers that ignorance and intolerance pose to our free speech and private property rights. It also illustrates why I don’t live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association.

The Associated Press reports that the Loma Linda Homeowners Association, which imposes its will on and collects association fees from property owners in a 270-home subdivision in Pagosa Springs, Colo., ordered Lisa Jensen to remove her Christmas wreath.

It threatened to fine Jensen $25 for every day that the wreath remains on the side of her home.

No, it didn’t order the wreath’s removal because it’s a holiday decoration that might offend non-Christian residents.

No, it didn’t order the wreath’s removal because the association bans Christmas greenery adorning Loma Linda subdivision homes.

Calm any “war on Christmas” fears. In fact, it ordered the wreath’s removal because of complaints from three or four subdivision residents about the wreath’s peace sign shape.

Some residents interpret the wreath as a statement against the Iraq war. Other residents, according to Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda HOA, believe the peace symbol is a Satanic sign.

Jensen says the wreath is an expression of the spirit of Christmas and that she won’t be bullied into removing it.

“Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing,” she told the AP.

The HOA’s letter ordering the wreath’s removal said that it “will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive.”

Peace is a divisive concept? Bah humbug.

If you want divisive, look at the election results of Proposition 90, which failed with 52 percent of Californians voting no on the eminent domain reform measure, 48 percent voting yes. That’s a divisive issue.

The 2000 Census determined that the average Colorado household has 2.53 people, meaning that 683.1 people live in the Loma Linda subdivision. Of those, three or four complained about the peace symbol wreath. Somewhere between .43 and .58 percent of residents complained about Lisa Jensen’s wreath. The other 99.57 to 99.42 didn’t mind it.

That hardly constitutes divisive.

I grew up in a conservative branch of Protestantism that has a strong fear of the occult, but was never told that the peace symbol is Satanic. I heard about Santa being an anagram for Satan, I was warned about the dangers of Halloween, and I was taught to fear 666, but the peace symbol as a Satanic sign escaped the notice of my pastors and teachers.

So I did a little research. According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament web site, the peace symbol debuted in 1958 during one of its antinuclear marches in London. Created by Gerald Holtom, artist and World War II conscientious objector, Holtom says the symbol incorporates the semaphore symbols for the letters N (for nuclear) and D (for disarmament).

It also represents a person in despair, with arms outstretched downward, “in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”

The Satanic attribution of the peace symbol reminds me of the claim that “Xmas” is demeaning to Christmas – they’re both caused by historical ignorance. The Greek letter chi, which looks like an “X,” is the first letter of Christ and was used by early Christians as a symbol for Christ. “Xmas” is not an attempt to remove Christ from Christmas.

Jensen’s neighbors who see Satan in the peace symbol should cool their fevered imaginations, as should folks who continue to believe in the fictional war on Christmas.

But those of us who see encroachment of governmental and quasi-governmental agencies upon our free speech and private property rights, on the other hand, we’ve got real worries and lots of work to do.

Prop. 90 narrowly failed in the November election. If civil liberties are important to you, write your state legislators to urge them to support a ban on eminent domain on behalf of private developers as soon as they convene next week.

On a federal level, we must hold the Democratic majority in Congress responsible for removing threats to our civil liberties passed by the rubber-stamp Republican majority.

And this holiday season, don’t be fooled by authors, pundits and fundraisers who claim that that there’s a war on Christmas. A war on free speech and private property rights, absolutely. A war on critical thinking and tolerance, you bet.

Let’s put our energy into protecting those endangered concepts. Christmas is doing just fine.

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